Timberwolves-Rockets Preview

The Associated Press

A week ago, Houston Rockets coach Kevin McHale returned to his home state and led his team to a win over his former club, the Minnesota Timberwolves.

With leading scorer Kevin Martin's status unknown, McHale's surging Rockets will try to collect another victory in Monday night's rematch at the Toyota Center.

McHale, a native of Hibbing, Minn. and onetime college star for the Golden Gophers, worked in various capacities for the Timberwolves after his retirement as a player following the 1992-93 season. He was fired from his second stint as the team's coach after the 2008-09 campaign.

He returned to the coaching ranks last June, when Houston hired him to try and end a three-season playoff drought. After an inauspicious 3-7 start, McHale has the Rockets (12-8) on that path with improvements at both ends of the floor.

Houston is averaging 102.2 points during a 9-1 stretch and is also playing better defensively, limiting the Timberwolves to 41.3 percent shooting in a 107-92 win at Minnesota last Monday.

Martin scored a team-high 31 points in that victory, but plantar fasciitis in his right foot has kept him out of the past two games. His absence has yet to slow down the Rockets.

Houston routed Washington 103-76 on Friday, then topped New York 97-84 on Saturday. Reserve forward Chase Budinger had 19 points against the Knicks, while Jordan Hill finished with 14 points and 11 boards off the bench for his sixth career double-double and second in as many games.

"You need to play more guys, just because how short the season is, how quick games are coming up," said Budinger, who scored a season-high 21 points Friday. "There are going to be nights where one player doesn't play well, so someone else has to step up. I think our team is doing a good job."

The Rockets usually do a good job against the Timberwolves (9-11), having won 15 of the last 16 meetings. However, the defeat came the last time Minnesota visited the Toyota Center, a 112-108 loss last Feb. 8.

Kevin Love led the Wolves with 20 points and 14 rebounds in that win, but his 33 points Sunday weren't enough to help the Timberwolves defeat the visiting Los Angeles Lakers.

Minnesota rallied from an 18-point second-half deficit but couldn't take control in a 106-101 loss. Michael Beasley had 18 points and a season high-tying 12 rebounds in his second game back from a foot injury, but point guard Ricky Rubio finished with a career-low five points.

"We've been a second-half team the entire year," Love said. "We just need to come out in the first 24 minutes and replicate what we do in the second half."

Rubio, averaging 11.1 points, missed 11 of 13 shots in Sunday's defeat and 10 of 12 while scoring six points against Houston last week. Love, meanwhile, had a season-high 39 points and 12 rebounds in last week's loss to the Rockets.

Love has scored at least 20 points in each of his last three games against Houston and has recorded double-doubles in each of his last five.

The Rockets would surely like to get Martin back for this game, as he's averaged 27.3 points over his last six matchups with Minnesota. His replacement in the starting lineup, Courtney Lee, should still be available after avoiding injury in a car accident following Saturday's win.

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